Tag Archives: critical lens

Believers, doubters, questioners: one heart and mind?

I have been writer’s blocked off late but thank God I went to church and could soak in some wisdom from people around me and experience the readings without being distracted as much I have been.

 

The first reading is so Utopian, I am almost 100% sure it is fiction (sorry to tell you that). It shows us an idealized view of the early church when all of us know that despite our best intentions organisations become filled with disagreement and mistrust, resentments flare and people feel taken for granted. Even without anyone meaning to do the wrong thing, this can happen (and some people are less than ideally motivated as well).

 

Having said that, I like to sink into that first reading, early church beautiful idyll and let it reassure me about the VALUES that our faith is built upon.

 

If you get all your information about Christianity from Facebook or other popular media sources, you could be forgiven for thinking Christianity is a very right wing and harsh religion. People styling themselves “Christians” are always attacking left-wing, pinko, tree-hugging, hippies like me. A couple of times in my political campaigning people said they liked my policies but wanted to vote for something “Christian” as if redistributing wealth and having a sense of the common good was something invented by Marx.

 

No offence to Marx, but take a careful look at this reading, so many years earlier, where they are holding property in common and redistributing any surplus to the “have-nots”. It doesn’t say they are forcing people to work or in some way humiliate themselves to receive the help either, they work for the good of all and they share generously with all.

 

If only this is what it meant to be a Christian. That would definitely be a redeemed post-resurrection reality wouldn’t it? That would inspire hope. Let’s move through the happy psalm full of the sorts of reversals (the stone which the builders rejected) that seem to be a hallmark of Jesus’ transformative ministry (and speak to me of social justice) and take a look at the second reading then.

 

In the second reading, love of God and love of other humans is linked. Obeying God’s commandments inevitably leads to love. Obedience here is not a burden or a discipline, it is a life-hack that leads to victory and right relations. When John tells us so insistently that Jesus came through water and blood I think of every birth ever where slippery little babies squeeze out of their mothers in a watery, bloody mess. Jesus’ passage through death then is a birth, some artists and poets speak of the tomb as a womb, the earth springing open to birth him.

 

Fuel for ecofeminist thought I guess.

 

Forward to Jesus, coming back to see his “disciples” and the story of doubting Thomas who I have always had a sneaking sympathy for but now the more so because I am trying to reconcile critical realism and feminist standpoint theory and think about epistemology and do we really “know” what we think we “know”? And besides given all the fake news and innuendo that abounds it would be well for people to be a little more cautious and doubting and critical.

 

Notably, Jesus is not angry at Thomas. Maybe amused, maybe having to force himself to be patient but he works with Thomas’ doubt.

 

Thomas needs experience as proof, Jesus allows him to experience through his senses the truth. Look. Touch. But also by implication (since he speaks to him) Listen.

 

It is frustrating when we know that something is true and we need people to believe us and to jump on board with it and they simply refuse. They may have a stereotypical news that what we are saying is an “old wives tale” unreliable because it is by or for women. They might think we are kidding ourselves or exaggerating or imagining what we say we know. People are reluctant to believe.

 

It is good to be sceptical like Thomas, to not try to erase truth with pretty fairytales. It is good to be cautious and demand evidence and stand back from the bandwagon. But it can hold back progress too to be over-cautious or to be overstuck in what we have always known rather than new possibilities, the “good news” in life. So there is some middle-ground that we all constantly need to negotiate and renegotiate (see my problem with the disciples in the first reading believing and knowing all things in agreement?). We need to be open but not naïve. We need to welcome, to show, to prove, to humour the unbelievers (when we believe we have some truth). We need workable middle-grounds but we also need human interactions.

 

Imagine if Thomas had switched off so much he did not speak to the other disciples any more or if they had cast him out for his unbelief? Then he either would never have encountered the risen Jesus or they would not have witnessed his encounter. If our truth is life-giving we need to constantly invite people into it. If our critical questions are valid we need to try to have some loyalty and link (as far as possible) with our communities that need the challenge. It’s easy to say, much harder to show exactly where and how and who has to give way to preserve peace.

 

It helps to believe that Jesus will come and/or send the Holy Spirit to inspire our connectedness and our constructive critiques.

 

It helps to hold out some measure of the flickering hope that resurrection is possible. Even now.

 

Maranatha.

 

Kingdom, power, glory and other distractions

“You say that I am a king.” Jesus throws that particular metaphor back on Pilate- back on the pseudo-objective, rationalist, judgemental part of ourselves, the part too cowardly to be moved by compassion and deeper visceral wisdom. Yes we do say that don’t we…we reify kingship and power and greed: patriarchy and kyriearchy in placing Jesus on side with the rulers of this world, with the fathers. Even when he criticises or replaces them he does it (in our storytelling) as a rival and a winner, as the hyper-masculine suffering body that triumphs. We have read this “truth” in this way for so many years and we have settled in this exile of Lords and Fathers. How can we sing Wisdom’s song in this desolate land? How do we differently make sense of the radical transformative action of Jesus.

I look at a greed-torn world, a “kingdom” of cowardly and wilfully blind citizens and I don’t see a “reign of Christ” in action. Not if Christ is God, is that still small voice of challenge, the call to justice, the instinct to kindness, the presence of love. Where is that in the ruling of this universe? How does the torn and poisoned earth experience Christ’s “reign”. I do not think that after two millenia of this we need to keep trotting out the same old pious Pollyanna-statements where when all else fails we are stubbornly “glad” because “Christ is king”. Religion becomes the equivalent of an ecstasy tablet, we take it to ignore reality and we feel damn good– meanwhile the oikonomia of God’s household is still in disarray. We are not taking care of our earth and our little human selves at all well.

Our so-called “king” is in exile. We are too damn racist to accept a king who sits on the earth with Indigenous people or travels in leaky boats with refugees. We are too misogynist to allow a queen within the eternal Christ/Wisdom person who walks with us and suffers with us and calls us to something simpler and truer and less glamorous than a “kingdom”. Where is the justice and kindness and simple barefoot humility that is “all” we are called to? We force this exiled, suffering Christ down onto a throne and nail a crown to his head and hail him as a human construction of oppression, as a “king”.

“Holy” we bleat, “God you are so cool”. We say “Lord. Lord, Lord, Lord” day and night and ignore the work to be done. Wisdom walks through the streets, mixes wine and talks to the “just anyones” that our church pushes out. Christ labours in the great harvest while we pour the chemicals of patriarchy and racism over everything and try to sell Christ short on infertile patented seeds of a pre-determined kingdom of euphoric nothingness. “Those who suffer the ecstasy of the animals”, snuffling up to the ankle or the hand of a master, behaving obsequiously and expecting a pat for it. “Those who glitter with the glory of the hummingbird” self made members of a royal court, dressed in the fine threads of someone else’s labour and feeling a nauseating delusion of superiority. This is our religion at times, a lip service to the truth of the labour of God’s struggle and an profound orientation to everlasting “death”.

We have one life to love God- not to worship in a way that distances God and makes a Christmas pageant of “Him”, but in a close, intimate way that is committed to the pain of always giving birth to justice, kindness and right-relationship. We don’t work, or suffer, or achieve things “for” God, for some distant and glittering king that demands things from us. We engage in the work that God is already doing, we orient ourselves toward life and love. We follow a beloved not extol a figurehead.

I realise I am quarrelling with tradition today and even with scripture and I have not had time to do a careful analysis of those readings so I am writing from the gut. But I am no courtesan playing political games and competing for the favour of a spoilt king. At my best I am a (junior) co-worker with the tireless justice-maker Christ, at my worst I might be distracted into the sort of pretty feel-good religion of the spectator at a royal progress. If we want to say that Christ “reigns”, then we have a lot of work to do to make love the new common-sense.

My heart is mutinous at the thought of a ruling class God!